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Heightened security adds to airport chaos

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Shannon Kloss and Kyle Dinger, in foreground, wait in the security line after missing their first flight out of Detroit.

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DETROIT - For Arnold Spaan, the only thing left to do was nap.

Like countless other air travelers through Detroit Metro yesterday, he found himself stalled in exhaustingly long lines caused by the heavy load of post-holiday passengers and heightened security measures.

Also like others, he and his wife, Mary Ann, found themselves finally reaching their gates just as their flights disappeared onto the horizon.

“It was unbelievable,” Mrs. Spaan said, as the Jackson, Mich., couple waited in the crowded lobby for relatives to pick them up from the airport.

They had arrived at Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport at 9 a.m. for their 11:35 a.m. flight, she said. They passed a good portion of their morning waiting to be checked in, only to be diverted to a second line - the one that ultimately would lead to the security checkpoints - that wound around a giant Christmas tree, snaked past the ticket desks, veered toward the food court, and then doubled back to the security checkpoint.

They reached their gate at 11:55 a.m.

“There were people everywhere - you couldn't move,” Mrs. Spaan said, while her husband cat-napped beside her. “We were in one line, then someone made it another line, and who knew what you were really waiting for? It was chaos.”

Even Detroit Metro spokesman Mike Conway conceded that the morning had been “a nightmare.”

“We lost control. We lost the end of the line,” he said. “Just keeping the passenger screening lines and the check-in lines separate was a nightmare.”

Based on advanced ticket sales, officials had predicted the day would be one of the busiest for holiday travel, Mr. Conway said.

But the crowds were frustrated when unusually long lines had to pass through the extra security measures, he said.

At Toledo Express Airport, things weren't as hectic, though some passengers were delayed several minutes because of additional security measures, said port authority police Chief Mark Fisher.

Port authority officers searched delivery vans, courtesy shuttles, and vehicles parking in the airport's short-term parking lot while they continued their stepped up patrols of the airport's perimeter and interior, Chief Fisher said.

Security personnel from International Total Services, which conducts passenger security at the airport, randomly checked shoes by wiping a white strip over the footwear and placing the strip into a machine that searches for residue from explosive material.

“There were a few delays, but nothing major,” said an unidentified ITS security officer. “There were a few complaints, but you will always have that when you're working with the public.”

Many travelers had planned to spend extra time waiting at the airport - resigned to the fact that air travel will never be the same in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and an incident Saturday in which a 28-year-old man allegedly tried to blow up an American Airlines plane with explosives in his shoes.

Jennifer Niederhauser, an Imlay City, Mich., teacher, kissed her boyfriend, an Army reservist, good-bye at the security checkpoint at Detroit Metro two hours before he was scheduled to board his flight to Missouri.

No one but ticketed passengers could pass the checkpoint.

For several minutes they waved at each other until he disappeared into the sea of other travelers.

“I guess you know to expect it,” she said. “People were pretty nice about it. You just know you'll have to wait.”

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